Impulsivity is a fairly simple concept. If you are impulsive, you pick up tasks that lead to instant gratification and put off those which serve you only in the long run. On the same note, you pick up tasks which save you from immediate threats and put off those in which the deadline isn’t imminent. You can understand the whole concept of impulsivity very well by taking a Barrat’s Impulsivity Scale test and then listening to the psychologist’s or computer generated analysis of that.
I do not know if this disposition can somehow be reduced. I couldn’t find any hard scientific information on that. But I do know that psychotherapy largely bases on the assumption that inherent psychological tendencies can be overridden by environmental influences as well as by expert interventions. So I’ll take impulsivity as a modifiable trait too, until otherwise proved.
Impulsivity: The psychological perspective:
The concept of impulsivity was first described by psychologists purely based on their observations and experiences. The underlying neurological mechanisms were only discovered later.
Freud has used the terms Id, ego and superego to explain human drives in essentially the same tune as the concept of Impulsivity. Id represents one’s childish self which needs instant gratification and knows no past, no future. Ego represents one’s mature self. Superego is the interaction between the two. The relative development of one’s id, ego and superego determine one’s impulsivity at a given age. Freud’s Impulsivity reduces with age. For this reason children and teens always see their parents as over regulating and dictating whereas elder ones always see the younger ones as careless and valueless.
Impulsivity: Possible interventions:
From my very little understanding of psychology, I realize that no active personality manipulation is possible without the subject’s motivation. Because an impulsive person, by definition, cannot easily be motivated to do something beneficial in the long run, active interventions shouldn’t be very effective. But psychologists never give up, do they ?
To combat impulsivity induced procrastination, one strategy is breaking up of vague long term tasks into smaller more objective ones. The other is making the tasks more interesting to the procrastinator by use of what I call pseudo-rewards. An example of pseudo-reward is the score in arcade games which sounds rewarding to the player despite being useless and non-existent in the real world. I have used both of these strategies at a time when I had no idea of the whole science behind procrastination. These worked pretty well. I got academic distinctions the very few times I tried these. The question that arises here is: Why couldn’t I continue using those strategies if those were so rewarding ? Maybe that’s because you have to incorporate any working strategies into your psyche by many repetitions over time.